The post-BREXIT UK: Pigeonholing Access

The UK has instituted a new points-based immigration system post BREXIT. How will this impact immigration into “Fortress UK?”

Dawn of a New Restrictive Era?

Brexit 2016 was a firm rejection of open borders and a call to take back control over the immigration system. The roots of Brexit grew from inter-related issues pertaining to immigration, economics and sovereignty, a movement that snowballed into the majority vote for the exit. The main focus for Britain since then has been to tackle the issue of immigration and create a policy as promised to its people.

The newly released immigration policy aims to make the migration quality rather than quantity oriented. It gives priority to those with the highest skills through a Points-based System (PBS). The new system will come into force from January 1, 2021, which will formally end free movement of people between the UK and the EU. The period of transition up to December 2020 gives time to both sides to redefine their future relationship in terms of rules, regulations and policy framework.

Points have been assigned to various criteria like specific skills, qualifications, salaries and professions. The idea is to attract the talent that the UK needs and to distinguish between the need for highly skilled workers and unskilled workers. Those hoping to live and work in the UK will need to tally up 70 points. 

The implication of the PBS on EU and Non-EU Migrants

A PBS already existed for non-EU citizens since 2008, but the new PBS is equally applicable to both EU and non-EU citizens. Points are awarded for having English language proficiency, meeting the salary threshold among others. The visa allotment cap is set at around 21,000 a year but is rarely met.  It is estimated that around 70% of the EU workforce currently living in the UK would fail to qualify under the skilled worker category. Sectors like agriculture, residential care homes and construction heavy industry, which have most numbers of EU workers at present, will be impacted. 

he government will continue to issue temporary/ seasonal visas, but it does not intend to introduce a low-skilled worker visa option. This change will not have much impact on non-EU citizens. In fact, it is most likely to increase the number of non-EU citizens getting a visa as the salary threshold has been dropped from the earlier limit of 30,000£ to 25,600£. 

The new system is intended to increase the accountability of the process. Anyone who ticks all the boxes is eligible to apply, for those who don’t, there is a leeway way.  For example, an applicant who is offered a job paying 20,480£ a year (compared to the required 25,600£) can increase his points if he is a PhD in a subject area relevant to the offered role. In addition to that, a qualification in STEM subjects (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) are given priority. The Migrant Advisory Committee (MAC) is also commissioned to compile a list of industries in need of a labour boost, and there would be concessions given accordingly.

Beyond Borders

Canada, Australia and New Zealand are most often used as comparison points for judging the points-based system. Canada introduced the concept in 1967 to focus on youth, education and fluency in English or French. Whereas, Australia focused on age and skilled employment experience. Both countries, however, adopted this system not to cut migration but to grow migration in a controlled effort and have been achieving the same.

The major difference between the UK system and that of the other countries is that the UK does not assess the individuals for age or qualification. It trusts and outsources this process to the employers to decide whether the person is qualified for the job or not. Similarly, it does not have a decentralised system like Australia; wherein, different states are given the option to select workers based on particular skills.

India Watch

The entry of skilled workers from India to Britain increased tremendously in 2018. The new changes are likely to have a positive effect on Indian students going to the UK as they will have adequate time after finishing their studies to look for jobs. Approximately 19,500 students from India received study visas in 2019, which was a 70% increase as compared to the past two years. 

Brexit also makes it possible for both the countries to negotiate a free trade agreement which was earlier not a possibility because of EU regulations relating to market access, tariffs and regulatory controls. 


  • Britain's decision with respect to the points-based system could cause labour shortage in industries such as farming and social care which focus on unskilled labour. The locals might not be willing to work for low wages as compared to immigrants, and this could lead to problems for various sectors that require unskilled labourers.

  • Britain is most likely to follow a set timetable for the year to help with the negotiations and chart out the process to ease the transition period. The ultimate aim of this exit is to give more power to Britain to take control of its border, policies and shape its own decisions. Only time will tell how successful it will be.

  • It is one thing to say that there is a need for local British workers but not provide time for the transition. This is likely to have a negative impact on the economy.  More time should be given to the economy to adjust to these changes.